Practicing the Five Canons of Rhetoric

Practicing the Five Canons of Rhetoric
For Students by Students
A collection of exercises on Invention, Arrangement, Style,
Memory, and Delivery
Edited by Anya Luscombe
and Hannah Nonnenberg
Luscombe A. and Nonnenberg H. (2015). (Eds.) Practicing the Five Canons of Rhetoric. PDF.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercialShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866,
Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.
Why this booklet?
Word Association
Mind Mapping
Paradigms in Class
Persuasion in Movies
Kid for a day
Fallacies during your day
What am I talking about?
What did you do last night?
Practicing a speech
Sell your telephone
Social Media
Rewrite dullness
News around the world
Drama Drama
Favorite song
Double Translation and Metaphrasis combined
The pen is mighty
Rhetorical speed dating
Comedians and delivery
Quick Chess Debating
Why this booklet?
Teaching Rhetoric for several years, I increasingly saw how each student has his or her
own personal struggle with one or more of the five canons. By making them think about
how they could turn the difficult matter into their own creative exercises I made them
embrace their struggle and in the process did not have to devise many different
exercises myself or each year follow the exercises in the textbook which frankly weren’t
always very appealing.
Students perform better when they have the ability to influence their own learning 1;
besides, no teacher has a monopoly on good ideas. Coming up with their own
progymnasmata, or elementary exercises2, is not easy. But if low-stakes, then this is
precisely the type of homework assignment in which critical thinking is fostered,
creativity stimulated and individual comfort zones breached. Students should ask
themselves ‘What would I still like to learn or practice?’ and ‘How do I phrase the activity
instructions so that others will understand it?’ After writing the activity instructions and
doing the activity themselves they should reflect on how well it went and what they might
do differently a next time.
The activities my students devised and tried in or outside of class have in turn been
adapted by other classes or to suit different situations. I was surprised and delighted by
the originality and diversity (some simple, some challenging) of the students’ ideas and
did not want to save those ideas for myself. So this booklet contains a selection of them.
The time duration starts from only a couple of minutes up to an entire day of practice.
The estimated times are pointed out in the beginning of each exercise.
Anya Luscombe, PhD
Middelburg, The Netherlands, August 2015
Margolis , H. and McCabe P. (2006). “Improving self-efficacy and motivation: What to Do, What
to Say” Intervention in School & Clinic, March 1, 2006, EBSCO Host
2 The progymnasmata were preliminary exercises devised to help students of rhetoric create and
perform oratory. There are fourteen progymnasmata: fable, narrative (tale), chreia, proverb,
refutation, confirmation, commonplace, encomium, vituperation (invective), comparison,
impersonation, description, thesis, defend/attack a law. See Silva Rhetorica, Brigham Young
University. In
addition to those progymnasmata, students were also encouraged to do translation, imitation
and paraphrasing of texts as means to develop copia.
Invention (Inventio)
Invention is the first of the five canons of Rhetoric and concerns finding the available
arguments on an issue. The heuristic methods of invention (including dissoi logoi,
kairos, stasis theory and the topics) can also be used to find an issue in the first place.
Nowadays we might classify ‘brainstorming’ and ‘mind-mapping’ as means of
inventions too. Aristotle described three types of persuasion: logos (logical), ethos
(ethical) and pathos (emotional).
Word association (5 min)
Invention is the process of developing and refining arguments. Invention deals mostly
with the generation of arguments. Style deals more with generation of appropriate
words. One idea can have many words “surrounding” it that in some way or another
relate to that idea. Generating a list of these words can help a rhetor carefully formulate
one’s discourse. Within about five minutes think of an idea that interests you and list 25
of its surrounding words.
Mind mapping (30 min)
Search on the Internet for 3 different sites that explain what mind mapping is and
how/why mind mapping is done and why it is useful (especially for students). Briefly
summarise their explanations and then make a mind map on something related to
Fallacies (30 to 60 min)
Write a speech about something that is fundamentally untrue by using as many fallacies
as possible, and basing the arguments mainly on pathos instead of logos. Try to
establish some situational ethos beforehand. For example, you could defend the ‘fact’
that people of royal descent have blue blood.
Paradigms in Class (30 to 60 min)
Look for a paradigm which is prevalent in one of your courses, explain what it is and try
to criticize it. See if you can find any questions that can't be answered in this paradigm
and problems that occur.
Persuasion in Movies (30 min)
The art of persuasion is not only used in debates or public speeches, but also in
marketing, for example the marketing of a film. Choose a film of which you can analyze
the poster and its trailer. Elaborate on why you chose this specific film and then note
down all the techniques that you notice and explain why these are helping to persuade
the audience.
Kid for a day (1 to 3 hours)
Those with younger brothers and sisters probably know what it is like to be blamed for
everything going wrong in the household, to always be the one who has to do the
housework and never receive any appreciation for it. Young children seem to have an
instinct to appeal to grown-ups, especially their own parents, to get what they desire.
Analyse the way in which young children persuade others to get what they really want.
Do they unconsciously use rhetoric for this? If yes, to what extent do they appeal to
logos, ethos and pathos? Use academic sources and describe your own experiences.
Fallacies during your day (one day)
As a rhetor, you have to be prepared to analyze arguments used by others on the spot
(kairos!), and spot any fallacies or rhetorical constructs like enthymemes and appeals
to pathos. Practice this by analyzing every form (or as many as possible) of persuasion
you come into contact with throughout an entire day. What kinds of arguments were
used? Were they fallacious? Were you able to refute the arguments? Preferably pick a
day on which you are out ‘in the world’ a lot.
Arrangement (Dispositio)
Arranging and organizing your arguments to help make your case as efficiently and
effectively as possible.
What am I talking about? (10 to 30 min)
Get together with a partner or small group. One person starts telling a story, describing
a societal matter, or anything like that. Do it in a very unorganized way. For example
start with small details that do not matter, and slowly come to the greater facts. The
person that guesses first what the presenter is talking about can go next.
What did you do last night? (5 min, multiple times day)
Whenever you meet someone over the day, and they ask you what you did last
night/week/summer try to always tell the same story. But mix up the events, and order
how you tell the story. Try to find the most exciting/boring/informative/elaborate…. way
of telling about your experience. What matters when it comes to telling a story and
making it interesting to different audiences?
Practicing a speech (30 min to 3 h)
When you practice a speech or presentation subdivide the presentation into different
chunks of coherent and logical bits of information. Try to have small stories within the
one big storyline. Try to mix those chunks up, and still keep going to create a logical
storyline. Attention: this exercise might not be useful for some students, as improvisation
is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Style (Elocutio)
Using figures of speech and other rhetorical techniques to best present your arguments.
Headlines (5 to 15 min)
Find five recent news headlines and type them up. Paraphrase each of them three times
while using a combination of two style figures that should also be identified. Use different
style figures for each headline.
Sell your telephone to the local bus company (15 to 30 min)
Give four descriptions of an object close to you. It does not matter what object this is.
Every description should be different, since they have a different audience and a
different rhetorical situation. All descriptions should be between 100 and 200 words.
Situation 1: The object is part of an exhibition in an art museum. Give a description of
the object on display for the catalogue of the museum.
Situation 2: The object is being sold by the company you work for. Give a description of
the object for an advertisement.
Situation 3: You are writing an exordium (the introduction to a speech) about this object.
Give a description in which you explain why this object is so useful and amazing.
Situation 4: You are writing a text about this object to explain why it should be forbidden.
Give a description in which you explain why this object is so horrible and why it should
be forbidden.
Social Media (30 min)
Social media is a big part of almost everyone’s daily life; a majority of our time on the
Internet is spent on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Twitter really limits your word count
as you only have 140 characters per tweet, you have to be concise and creative when
tweeting. In 140 characters or less, try to explain the following concepts in an accurate
and concise matter, not compromising on the meaning of the word.
Situated ethos, enargeia, kairos, common topics, deduction, enthymemes, partition,
periphrasis, compound sentence and textual presentation (or any word you are
struggling with in understanding and or applying).
Rewrite dullness (30 min)
The aim of this assignment is to play with words. Pick an interesting, though dully
written, policy paper, legal document, bus timetable, etc., and rewrite it. The idea is to
make use of the power of words to turn it into a nice read. The article needs to remain
informative, but adapt it conform your understandings of fitting and pleasant language.
News around the world (30 min)
Survey at least three newspaper articles on the same subject from three different
countries. Write down a list of similarities and differences in the facts about the story.
Note differences in style. Now take a new subject and/or article from one country and
try to rewrite it fit for another country.
Drama Drama: Psycho thriller turns into romantic love story (10 to 60 min)
Pick a fragment of a book/story written in the 1st person. Either you open the book at
any random page or you choose a scene in the book. Depending on how much time
you have, you can start with only one paragraph, or an entire page. Paraphrase a
situation or description so that the meaning still is the same. Try to not change the
events or story, but the feeling, tone, and style instead. You can, for example, rewrite
the fragment adding different style figures for dramatic effects, or base it on hyperboles.
Favorite song (30 to 45 min)
Take the lyrics of your current favorite song (it has to contain lyrics). Is there something
in the text that makes you like the song? Think about Pathos (appeal to your emotions),
ethos (very good reputation), or kairos (moment in your life where the music plays a
sensitive role).
After your analysis, go through the lyrics and analyze the song for stylistic figures and
tropes. How many can you find?
1) For this Rhetorical Exercise it would help if you find a song where you understand
the lyrics, and they play an influence on why you like the music.
2) Follow up: now you can imitate the style used in the song, and paraphrase parts of
the song or come up with your own lyrics.
Double Translation and Metaphrasis combined (30 min to 60 min)
First, find a poem you really like in your first language (about one page long) and then
translate it almost literally to a second language, creating prose. Secondly, adapt this
prose in such a way that it becomes a poem. Thirdly, translate this poem almost literally
to your first language again. Finally, adapt this prose to become a poem again, and see
how similar it is to the original.
Memory (Memoria)
Learning and memorizing your speech and stock of arguments to enable you to deliver
it without notes. Memorized words, quotes, literary references and facts can all be used
in impromptu speeches. We can call this ‘practiced improvisation’.
Memory (30 to 90 min)
In the following a
memory game is
In order to play
have to match the
style figure name.
To make the game
decided to each
make our own set of the thirty style figures. By playing the game you learn how style
figures work in sentences and you learn how to recognize them. The hardest thing about
this portfolio assignment was coming up with the example sentences. We decided to
make a Christmas edition, so all the sentences are Christmas-themed. After we finished
making the game we played it together, which was quite difficult, but fun, and definitely
educational. It definitely helped me to get a better grasp on the style figures, which I
think will be beneficial in other courses.
Delivery (Pronuntiatio)
Practicing how you deliver your speech using pausing, timing, gestures, pronunciation,
and tone of voice.
The pen is mighty (10 minutes)
Try to read a script with a pen in your mouth. This will force you to focus on your
articulation, speed and volume. The lesson that this game teaches is that it is very
helpful to always talk like there is a pen in your mouth when you have to perform. Many
people have the tendency to talk too fast in front of an audience. However, you have to
keep in mind that for your audience it is the first time that they hear what you say. By
talking like you have a pen in your mouth, you make sure that you do not talk too fast,
and you articulate well enough.
Rhetorical speed dating (20 to 30 minutes)
Form two circles, an inner and an outer. Each person faces a partner from the other
circle and has one minute to convince the partner of his/her standpoint. This could be
on a predetermined topic where each argues for one side or on separate topic, e.g. the
speech they will be giving for a grade later in the semester. Once both have had their
turn, the outer circle moves up one person so each has a new partner to give the speech
to. And so on, repeat the procedure as often as desired. This activity is ideal for large
groups as it takes just 6 minutes for each student to practice three times and is so much
more efficient than each class member going consecutively. Besides, this way the
instructor isn’t thought to be listening and judging, making it easier to make mistakes
and improve the speech each time.
Comedians and delivery (60 to 80 min)
Since comedians are professional speakers they should be practiced in delivering a
speech. Watch shows of famous popular comedians and their delivery. Specifically pay
attention to, and analyse their body language while delivering their show.
Quick Chess Debating (By: P.F.G. Suurmeijer) (90 minutes)
Quick Chess Debating (QCD) is a quick high pace form of one-on-one debating that
ads a new layer of strategy and improvisation to debating. The main difference with
conventional one-on-one debating is that QCD uses a chess clock to replace the
In QCD there are three parties involved:
Protagonist, the protagonist is one of the debaters. This debater will be arguing for the
Antagonist, the antagonist is one of the debaters. This debater will be arguing against
the motion.
Judge (can be more than one person), the judge presents the motion for the debate in
the beginning and introduces both speakers. The judge, as an unbiased party, sets the
chess clock before the debate. The judge (as the name suggests) judges the debate
and decides at the end which debater won the debate.
Main rules:
The protagonist and antagonist receive the same amount of speaking time.
Both debaters get the same amount of minutes to speak indicated on their chess
Once the flag of a speaker falls the judge taps the table signalling that the
debaters’ speaking time is up. That speaker gets the chance to finish his
sentence if necessary after which he or she hits their time button one final
The protagonist gets the first chance to speak. The debate starts by the
antagonist asking whether the protagonist is ready to start. Once the protagonist
says he is ready, the antagonist presses the button on his side of the chess
clock, starting the speaking time of the protagonist.
The third time a speaker consecutively presses his time button without
adding to the debate, that speaker automatically loses the debate. It is
possible that a situation arises in which one or both speakers do not know what
to say and keep hitting their time button on the chess clock without really adding
anything to the debate. An example would be: The protagonist is speaking. He
finishes what he has to say and hits his time button. Without speaking the
antagonist hits his time button. As a response the protagonist hits his time button
again. The antagonist hits his time button again without speaking. As a response
the protagonist hits his time button again. As a response the antagonist hits his
time button one last time without speaking. In this case the antagonist would
automatically lose the debate because he or she hit their time button three
consecutive times without adding to the debate.
(In an exercise situation the opposing debater will keep track of the speaker’s
time. In this case while one debater is speaking the other debater is looking at his flag.
If a flag falls during the debate the opposing speaker taps the table to signal the end of
the other debater’s speaking time.)
Adding to the debate: speaking at least a coherent sentence relevant to the debate.
Antagonist: Debater arguing against the motion
Chess clock: A two-dial clock often uses in chess games
Exercise situation: An ‘informal’ debate in which the judge is absent
Flag: The marker on the chess clock that signals when ones time is up
Judge: Mainly moderates and judges the debate
Protagonist: Debater arguing for the motion
Speaker: The debater that is speaking at a given time
Speaking time: The total amount of minutes that both debaters have to speak
Time button: The button on top of the chess clock used to make the speaking time of
the other debater commences. Both debaters have their own time button on their
respective side of the chess clock.
With thanks to the following students:
Amber Zegers, Beau Huijsse, Britt Wouters, David Esmijer, Fanny Mojet, Helena Nijtmans, Isabel
Hageman, Joost Verheggen, Julia Andriessen, Jurian Bazen, Jurian Sandvoort, Maartje Stroo, Natalie
Jubien, Nilo Daniel, Pepijn Suurmeijer, Renske Peterse, Sarah Mullié, Tchyn Lang Laure Ho, Teuntje
Doormalen, Yonna Kuipers, Kirsten Schaafstra, Nicole Oetke, Femke Koekkoek and all those who have
taken ACC120 at UCR over the past few years.
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